Why you should care
Because “sacred” is a relative term.
Narendra Modi has angered many since his arrival to power in India. But his latest decision is a flat-out head-scratcher: He’s supporting a ban on cattle slaughtering. You’re probably thinking, “Isn’t killing cows already illegal in India?” Not exactly. In fact …
India is the world’s
exporter of beef.
What about sacred cows? One answer is in part semantics: The meat comes mostly from bulls and buffalo. It’s mostly exported to Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Saudi Arabia, where consumers enjoy the halal-certified Indian produce. Overall, meat exports are a $5 billion industry (that’s more than basmati rice). Another explanation relates to religion and poverty: Hundreds of thousands of low-caste Hindus and Christians eat beef regularly because it’s the cheapest source of animal protein, about half the price of chicken — not to mention the country’s many Muslims (India has the world’s second-largest Muslim population, after Indonesia).
But that could soon change. A bill approving the banning of cow slaughtering and the sale and consumption of beef in the western state of Maharashtra — with fines and sentences of up to five years in prison — was recently signed by the president. Meat producers fear for their businesses as the Hindu nationalist president is being lobbied by right-wing Hindu groups to expand the slaughter ban to other parts of the country and to include all types of cattle.
Proponents of the law (mostly Hindu religious groups) say that the bill makes perfect sense since most Indians don’t consume beef anyway and it preserves some of the country’s cultural, religious and gastronomic staples. The ban has also made many animal-rights defenders, who have long protested the treatment of the animals, very happy. Poorva Joshipura, CEO of PETA India, says the organization welcomed the decision because a plant-based nutrition should be more than enough to feed all Indians and that “killing beef is not the way to ensure Indian public health.”
Critics point to the potential for sharp economic repercussions. “This measure just makes no business sense,” says Shreekant Gupta, professor of environmental economics at the University of Delhi. “It’s going to lose us money, is not environmentally friendly because we [will] have too many cows grazing, and is clearly discriminatory.” Like Gupta, many think beef bans constitute a protected form of discrimination against those groups who eat beef regularly.
Yet despite all the beef among India’s religious groups (pun intended), exports of this controversial meat continue to hold steady. And Gupta says it’s unlikely beef bans will take larger hold as the states have the last say on the matter and economic incentive is too large.
So fret not, beef eaters. If you go to Saudi Arabia or Vietnam, you can still chow down on a rare culinary delight: the deliciously elusive Indian burger.